Macbeth Act 3 Scenes 1 to 6 Summary

Antonia Blankenberg
Note by , created almost 2 years ago

Macbeth Act 3 is a pivotal act in the play as the action ratchets up with the murder of Banquo. This study note provides an overview of the action, with interpretation and important quotes highlighted.

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Antonia Blankenberg
Created by Antonia Blankenberg almost 2 years ago
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Page 1

Act 3 - Scene 1

Act 3 opens with Banquo discussing the witches' prophecy with Macbeth. Banquo is weary, but comforted by the second half of the prediction; that his descendants will rise to the throne.    Macbeth, now king, invites Banquo to a feast in his honour that evening. Banquo accepts their invitation and says that he plans to go for a ride on his horse for the afternoon.    In a soliloquy, Macbeth reveals his fear that the rest of the prophecy will come true and he will be removed from his throne by Banquo. Unable to endure the thought of Banquo's descendants claiming his position, Macbeth summons two hired murderers and convinces them to kill Banquo and his son.   Analysis: The discussion between Banquo and Macbeth at the beginning of the scene gives a reminder to the audience that there is still another part of the witches' prophecy that has not yet come true.   In Macbeth's planning of the feast with Lady Macbeth, he uses the royal "we". This is a traditional figure of speech by which the monarch expresses not only unity with his people but also his absolute authority over them. We also see Macbeth's new authority when Banquo starts to use "my lord" when talking to his best friend and in the strong verse rhythms he uses throughout this scene.   There is emphasis on the word "tomorrow" throughout the beginning of this scene. What he says in this scene will come back to haunt him later in the play and acts as an accurate foreshadowing to the famous "Tomorrow and tomorrow" speech in Act 5.    Macbeth's soliloquy is filled with the language of contrast. His split with Banquo is emphasized by opposing pronouns and stark language. However, his insecurity of not having an heir certainly shows through. While Banquo was somewhat excited about the final part of the prophecy, Macbeth is ready to change it after receiving what he wanted.    Macbeth's hiring of murderers in this scene is interesting; Macbeth managed to get his hands dirty for his first murder, but now is somehow above killing someone himself, as we see throughout the rest of the play. He is displayed as a politically strong, but morally weak character. The dialogue between Macbeth and the murderers also suggests that he has met with them before.   Macbeth is sure to check that the murderers actually hate Banquo before sending them to kill them. The tone of his lines is more than simply interrogative; Macbeth must ensure that the men are not persuaded by the slightest moral scruple, the slightest sympathy for Banquo, to betray the plan. Macbeth acts as if this murder will elevate their rank and bring them praise, but his tone treats them as beasts.    Macbeth's final lines, "It is concluded. Banquo, thy soul’s flight, / If it find heaven, must find it out tonight", echoes the lines he utters before he kills Duncan in an earlier scene; "Hear it not Duncan, for it is a bell / That summons thee to Heaven, or to Hell".    Important Quotes: "To be thus is nothing, But to be safely thus. Our fears in Banquo Stick deep, and in his royalty of nature Reigns that which would be feared." - Macbeth   "Upon my head they placed a fruitless crown And put a barren scepter in my grip, Thence to be wrenched with an unlineal hand, No son of mine succeeding." - Macbeth   "It is concluded. Banquo, thy soul’s flight, If it find heaven, must find it out tonight." - Macbeth

Page 2

Act 3 - Scene 2

This scene is centred around Macbeth and his wife. It is clear that Lady Macbeth has started to feel doubts about their murder of Duncan, but continues to calm Macbeth's mind. Killing the king has provided them with many more difficulties than they first envisioned.   To Lady Macbeth's surprise, Macbeth tells her that he has planned the murder of Banquo and Fleance, claiming that they are threats to the throne. He urges her to keep a positive temper around Banquo during the feast, in order to lure their next victim into a false sense of security.    Analysis: This scene mirrors the planning of Duncan's murder in Act 1, except this time, Lady Macbeth was unaware of the plan. We see the power shift to Macbeth in their relationship; where formerly Macbeth was the one who needed convincing, now the weaker role passes to his wife. Macbeth's line "Come, seeling night " is an echo of the speech of Lady Macbeth's earlier in the play; "Come, thick night ".    While Lady Macbeth appears to be looking back at their previous murder, Macbeth looks forward, anticipating the next murder, of which Lady Macbeth is not yet fully aware. This further emphasises the power shift in their relationship.   Where Lady Macbeth wanted to be separated from her gender earlier in the play, Macbeth wishes to be removed from his humanity in this scene. At the end of the scene he says "Cancel and tear to pieces that great bond / Which keeps me pale". His direct connection with the natural world into which he was born threatens to keep him fearful.    Important Quotes: "Naught’s had, all’s spent, Where our desire is got without content. 'Tis safer to be that which we destroy Than by destruction dwell in doubtful joy."- Lady Macbeth   "Come, seeling night, Scarf up the tender eye of pitiful day And with thy bloody and invisible hand Cancel and tear to pieces that great bond Which keeps me pale." - Macbeth

Page 3

Act 3 - Scene 3

This short scene shows Banquo and Fleance being attacked by the murderers. During the attack, a lamp is extinguished and only Banquo his killed. He tells his son to escape and plot revenge against his killer.   Analysis: The escape of Fleance is the turning point in Macbeth's story. Banquo's dying words, ordering Fleance to take "revenge," remind the audience of the Witches' prophecy to Banquo; that he will be father to a line of kings, even though he himself will not attain the throne.   Important Quotations: "O treachery! Fly, good Fleance, fly, fly, fly! Thou may ’st revenge —O slave!" - Banquo

Page 4

Act 3 - Scene 4

In this scene, Macbeth and his wife welcome the Thanes of Scotland to a feast. One of the murderers appears at the doorway with his face covered in blood. He tells Macbeth what has happened, the news of Fleance’s escape angers Macbeth; if only Fleance had died, he muses, his throne would have been secure.    Upon returning to the table to give a toast, Banquo's ghost appears in Macbeth's seat. Horror-struck, Macbeth speaks to the ghost, which is invisible to the rest of the company. Lady Macbeth turns to the shocked guests, telling them to ignore him because he has visions regularly.    Lady Macbeth turns to her husband, saying "Are you a man?" in an effort to urge him out of his trance.    The ghost of Banquo comes and goes, forcing Macbeth to continue his outburst and Lady Macbeth to escort their guests out of the room.    When they are alone, Macbeth tells Lady Macbeth that he has heard from a servant-spy that Macduff intends to keep away from court, behavior that verges on treason, and Macbeth soon makes plans to murder him also.    Macbeth makes plans to revisit the witches to determine if he will remain king.    Analysis: At first, Macbeth is pleased with the murderer, but upon hearing that Fleance escaped, his language changes. The alliteration of the hard c sounds reveals Macbeth's sense of constraint, in contrast to the freedom which he claims to have enjoyed previously; "But now I am cabined, cribbed, confined, bound in / To saucy doubts and fears".  The imagery of confinement and constraint plays an increasing part in his language from now on.   Throughout Macbeth, as in many of Shakespeare’s tragedies, the supernatural and the unnatural appear in grotesque form as harbingers of downfall. In this scene, the appearance of Banquo’s silent ghost, the reappearance of the witches, and the introduction of the goddess Hecate all symbolize the corruption of Macbeth and Scotland’s political and moral health.    The repetition of the word "blood" in this scene gives a dark tone and foreshadows the amount of murder that will take place before Macbeth is finally stopped.   This scene sees Macbeth rapidly switch from one state of mind to another. Macbeth sees the ghost three times and recovers to his senses after each. This alternating structure adds strongly to the impression of Macbeth's loss of control. Macbeth only fully regains his confidence when the guests leave.   This scene contrasts the reveal of Duncan's death; where Macbeth was once collected, he is now anxious. Lady Macbeth, on the other hand, remains constant in her judgement. Unlike Macbeth, she cannot see the ghost, and her tone is relaxed.   Important Quotes: "Then comes my fit again. I had else been perfect, Whole as the marble, founded as the rock, As broad and general as the casing air. But now I am cabined, cribbed, confined, bound in To saucy doubts and fears." - Macbeth   "The worm that’s fled Hath nature that in time will venom breed; No teeth for th' present. " - Macbeth   " I will tomorrow— And betimes I will—to the weird sisters. More shall they speak, for now I am bent to know, By the worst means, the worst. For mine own good, All causes shall give way." - Macbeth

Page 5

Act 3 - Scene 5

This short scene features The Three Witches talking to Hecate, the goddess of witchcraft. Hecate scolds them for meddling in the business of Macbeth without consulting her but declares that she will take over for them and lead Macbeth to his downfall.   She says that when Macbeth comes the next day, as they know he will, they must summon visions and spirits whose messages will fill him with a false sense of security.   Analysis: The language used by Hecate is similar to that used by Lady Macbeth when she scolds her husband.    This scene suggests that Macbeth is not entirely at fault for his own downfall, as is suggested by the other scenes.   Important Quotations: "Thither he Will come to know his destiny. Your vessels and your spells provide, Your charms and everything beside." - Hecate   "He shall spurn fate, scorn death, and bear His hopes 'bove wisdom, grace, and fear. And you all know, security Is mortals' chiefest enemy." - Hecate

Page 6

Act 3 - Scene 6

Meeting with a rebel lord, Lennox reveals his doubts concerning Macbeth.    Banquo’s murder has been officially blamed on Fleance, who has fled. Nevertheless, both men suspect Macbeth, whom they call a “tyrant" for murdering Duncan and Banquo.  Although Lennox is prepared to accept Macbeth's actions, he cannot help feeling deeply suspicious of him.   The lord reveals that Macduff has gone to England to join Malcolm in pleading with England’s King Edward for aid. News of this prompts Macbeth to prepare for war. Both Lennox and the lord pray for Macbeth to be removed from the throne.   Analysis: Shakespeare's mentioning of King Edward of England is done to promote the good relationships between England and Scotland and to please King James I.    The primary function of the lord is to confirm the news of Macduff's flight to England and to introduce the names of other rebel leaders, Northumberland and Siward, who will combine against Macbeth in the final act.    Important Quotes: " Some holy angel Fly to the court of England and unfold His message ere he come, that a swift blessing May soon return to this our suffering country Under a hand accursed!" - Lennox